Dry Fire And Why You’re Doing It Wrong

Well, maybe you’re not doing it wrong, but that guy behind you… he’s a dry-fire disaster. Seems that the unwritten rule for precision shooters has always been, “When you can’t shoot for real, dry fire is your next best option.” While there’s nothing new about the concept of dry firing your firearm for practice, are we actually doing it correctly? A few have written about their own personal dry fire regiments, but if you don’t have one or not sure if you’re making any headway–let’s talk about dry fire and why you’re doing it wrong.

Stop looking at the wall

I was first taught how to dry fire with the following explanation: “Pick a spot on the wall at a comfortable, normal target height and aim for that spot with your sights or dot. Practice careful trigger control, going through your entire shot plan, pay attention to your fundamentals.

Sounds good, right? The problem with the above statement is the fact that, while technically correct, it’s missing several key pieces of information. I first understood this to mean that you should pick something on a wall at the furthest possible point away from your standing place. This way, you can better approximate a “real” shooting practice. So I would rack and click, and rack and click until I was so bored that I just couldn’t take it anymore. My assumption? That I’m getting better with every click. Unfortunately that was probably not the case.

You see, the point of picking a spot on the wall–not a literal spot, like a target of some kind– was to allow you focus on the dot or the front sight without any chance of visual distraction. It wasn’t until later that I realized (and confirmed by Dave Lange’s article) that this technique is better served while being up close to the blank wall (about a foot away from the muzzle) allowing you to really watch that sight for movement with every trigger pull. Pull trigger + movement of the sight = bad.

Pick one and look at it

If the motion of the dot is what we are trying to overcome in the first technique while up close to the wall. So then for the second technique, it’s the motion of the dot in relation to a target. 

What?

So, with a “target” in the distance (the third variable that makes up your sight picture) you are now forced to consider that the target itself is a distraction away from your sight picture and motion of the trigger. While it is impossible to look at three things at the same time (dot, outer-ring of the sight and target -or- front-sight, rear sight and target) you cannot help but see all three at the same time. Where most of us go wrong is when we TRY and look at all the items in our sight picture and we end up with some nightmarish combination of jumping our focus from sights to target, back and forth until an aneurism occurs.

We must force ourselves to look either at the dot (front sight) or the target and not try to focus on all three. Easier said than done and you would be amazed at how easy we fall into this trap. When the shot goes off is the target clear in your vision? Because if it is, you’re looking at the target and not the sights. While this works for some people and there’s nothing wrong with it, you’ve got to commit either way and make sure it works for you. Most shooters focus on the sights.

Stop pretending you are loaded

When the shot breaks from a loaded firearm, lots of little mechanical things happen within the firearm. When the shot breaks while dry firing, only a few little things happen. The two experiences are vastly different once that break occurs and it’s easy to be thrown into believing that they feel different and that dry fire is just not the same. Well, you would be right and wrong.  Recoil is part of the shooting experience and many precision shooters have built the compensation for recoil into their shot plan. Breaking the shot plan for the sake of dry fire is an unfortunate necessity, but one that must be understood when pulling the trigger on an unloaded gun. Do NOT try to “imitate” recoil by forcing your arm to move in a way that real recoil does. Believe me, you will regret it as you find your shots widening at your next match.

The formula

Dry fire does not have to be the machine of tedious repetition that some make it out to be. Five minutes a foot from the blank wall while watching that sight for movement. If there’s movement, don’t just accept it–fix it. It’s something in your fundamentals that’s screwy.  The second five minutes is from across the room. Pick a small target on the wall. A small picture frame, light switch, paint smear, dead fly…whatever. Use that as your target but practice the same technique with the added distraction of the “target” you’ve incorporated. You’re still watching the sights for unnecessary movement. Five minutes there and you’re done. Make sure the shot plan and all the fundamentals are in play. Don’t get lazy with your stance, grip or trigger because there’s no bang to contend with.

Dry fire is a great tool for the competitive precision shooter when he or she cannot practice with live rounds. Keep the practice true to your real shooting and keep it honest so that you can benefit from the practice if offers. Also feel free to clean your gun once in awhile. Dry fire… you won’t always be doing it wrong.

Go have a match. And dry fire during your prep.

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